This week’s “150 Years Ago…” column is on a very disturbing topic, a fear that swept over the South like wildfire: the fear of a slave insurrection filled the minds of paranoid Southerners in 1860, the height of the abolitionist movement. With anti-Southern sentiment starting to hit mainstream media, the division in the country became more and more apparent as the days ticked by in the events leading up to the tripwire that began the Civil War.
As the media began reporting contemporary Northern politics, the South became even more weary of its Northern neighbor. Over nine months had passed since the hanging of John Brown for his murderous and terrorist actions at Harper’s Ferry, Va. and rebellion seemed more and more imminent. Regarding the slave insurrection in neighboring Texas, a Marshall, Tx. man writes the following about the terrorist acts committed less than a week prior in Dallas, Tx., supposedly by three negroes:
[MARSHALL] TEXAS REPUBLICAN, August 4, 1860, p. 2, c. 2
We have no late intelligence from Dallas. Reports are current here to the effect that twenty or thirty negroes were in jail at that place—that the incendiary conspiracy was fully established, and that several negroes and two or three white men had been hung. It is stated that the negroes were instructed to burn down all the towns, stores, mills, and residences, and particularly every place containing powder. That the people would be thus rendered defenseless, and that on the day of election, the abolitionists would invade the State in armed force and carry off the negroes to Mexico.
The following is an account of the damage following the fire set in Dallas, Tx.:
[MARSHALL] TEXAS REPUBLICAN, July 28, 1860, p. 3, c. 1-2
The Destruction of Property at Dallas
The fire at Dallas broke out on Sunday, the 8th inst., at 2 o’clock, P.M. Mr. John W. Swindells, furnishes the Galveston News with the following account of the property destroyed:
Dallas Hotel, three story brick, owned and occupied by Mrs. Cockrell.
Brick store of Smith & Murphy, with their stock of goods; goods partly saved.
Small frame office of Jas. T. Smith, occupied by himself, Gen. J. J. Good, and Dr. A. A. Johnson.
Drug and Grocery store of W. W. Peck & Bro., with a heavy stock of goods.
Vacant two story house, owned by J. W. Smith.
Storehouse and stock of goods, owned by A. Shirek, total loss.
Upper story of same building, occupied by J. W. Swindells, Dallas Herald office, total loss.
Crutchfield House, owned and occupied by T. F. Crutchfield, total loss. Post office in the same building all burned, with mails.
Office occupied by Drs. Pryer and Col. J. M. Crockett, and rear of building occupied by a family, total loss.
Barbershop of E. Wester, total loss.
A building just being erected for A. Simon.
Old tavern stand, occupied by several persons as boot shop by J. Bertoy, L. Burkhart, jeweler, and a family.
Law office of B. W. Stone.
Young Carr, saddler, total loss.
Storehouse of H. Hirsh, total loss—partly insured.
Storehouse of W. Casutte [?] & Bro., occupied by A. Simar [?], total loss—partly insured—up stairs occupied by law office by Nicholson & Ferris.
Mr. Stuble’s house just being erected, total loss.
House of Wm. K. Brutle, occupied as a shoe shop and residence, total loss.
Drug store of Dr. D. B. Thomas—stock and house, total loss—up stairs occupied by a law office by Mr. Hay.
Storehouse of J. W. Ellett—house and stock lost.
Vacant house, adjoining, total loss.
Blacksmith shop occupied by Joseph Lockett.
Storehouse of R. R. Fletcher & Co.—stock partly saved.
Storehouse of Cuneth, Simonds & Co. stock partly saved.
Saddle shop of Lynch & Son, total loss.
Storehouse of E. M. Stackpole—building and stock total loss.
Law office of J. C. Motley [?] and stable owned by same, total loss.
G. W. Guess’ law office, pulled down and law books saved.
Over Pratt & Bro.’s drug store were the offices of Dr. C. C. Spencer and W. S. J. Adams, J. S. Chapman, and J. K. E. Record, as law offices, their libraries and clothing total loss.
The Court House in the centre of the square, a fine brick building, was saved by the superhuman exertion of a few spirited individuals.
Over A. Shirek’s store was also the law office of E. C. McKenzie and Dr. C. R. Pryor, editor of the Herald—contents all lost.
Over H. Hirsh’s tore was the office of Dr. H. C. Scvott, whose library was totally lost.
The total loss is estimated variously at from three to five hundred thousand dollars, on which there is, I learn, not to exceed $10,000 insurance. The whole number of buildings destroyed is thirty-two or thirty-three, comprising the best built part of the place and including every store in use in it. Our town, which has been the admiration of all strangers, and which it is no exaggeration to say, was one of the prettiest small towns in the State, is now nearly a mass of ruins. All the stores had good stocks of merchandise, and some of them very heavy ones. It is sickening to look around and view the ruins of what was but yesterday morning a flourishing and beautiful place.
A great many goods from the stores and other buildings were saved, and piled up on the square, only to be destroyed where they were placed, the heat being so intense as to preclude al possibility of saving them. I write in haste and there may be some inaccuracies in my statement, but it is nearly correct I think.
For myself and the “Herald,” I shall at once order another new office, and the Herald shall be revived just as soon as I can get the material here. My loss was total—only my account books were saved.
What does this have to do with Arkansas Civil War history? It is events like the above that lead eventually to the occupation of Federal Forces at the Little Rock Arsenal in November (“out of the blue”) following the election. It is also events, or “emergencies” such as this mentioned in an 1860 Arkansas news account of the Pine Bluff Military Academy:” Recent developments of a most startling character show that we ought to take some steps in training our young men in the science of war, and in fitting them for effectual resistance in case of emergency. This done, the rising generation will go forth soldiers and braves, and like good and brave men knowing their duty, they will dare perform it.”